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Great Draft, Debatable Trades

Rick Charlton

June 24, 2001

That seems to be the early summary of a weekend visit to Florida by Calgary Flames GM Craig Button. 

It would be hard for me to argue against the selection of Chuck Kobesew as Calgary's first pick in the 2001 entry draft since I actually predicted the Flames would do exactly that in my column last week.

At the risk of repeating myself, Kobesew fits the new Calgary Flame mold of speed, speed, speed along with aggressiveness and skill. The 5'11" height has worried some critics but most juniors add 10 or 15 pounds by the time they hit 23 which means Kobesew should fill out to a very formidable 210 or so. Size is not an issue with this particular player.

To generate an extra second round pick from Phoenix on top of that was excellent piece of work by Button.

For those with long, long memories you will remember a column one year ago where I suggested a Jason Weimer for Rob Niedermayer trade, a deal I won't back away from.

The acquisition of Niedermayer is consistent with other moves made by Button to this point. Speed. Size. Two-way skill.

If a team is the sum of its parts then Niedermayer is only one more cog in a team that is very deliberately building one of the fastest lineups in the NHL. A swift lineup is also far more capable of playing the defensive hockey demanded by new coach Craig Gilbert. Many teams around the NHL have discovered it is far cheaper to prevent 50 goals than it is to score the same number. The recent Niedermayer and Conroy acquisitions are indications as to where Calgary is leaning.

And then there was the cryptic non-comment from Button on Niedermayer in today’s Calgary SUN. "I can't comment as to why but we feel he can get back to the level of a 50- to 60-point player that's a real good two-way player for our team and size and skating ability.” That’s a strange thing to say unless he has his eye on doing something else, perhaps a free agent winger. Or maybe the plan is to pair Niedermayer with Jarome Iginla leaving Marc Savard as toast.

In sacrificing Weimer the Flames had better be hoping the NHL doesn't change the instigator rule. Otherwise picking up Niedermayer is a step up for the Flames.

As to Val Bure I spent some time in this space in March suggesting Bure was worth essentially nothing and therefore an argument could be made for holding on to him and attempting to rehabilitate him. Button disagreed - call it Bure for a second rounder which turns into Russian goaltending prospect Andrei Medvedev. Not exactly nothing but this is the type of deal that could get ugly from a PR point of view if Bure pots 35 goals next year in Florida. If there is any benefit it would be that Bure will be doing it in the Eastern Conference and the Flames might face him once or twice. That's a very small benefit.

But he's no longer a large distraction in the Calgary dressing room either.

The most contentious deal of the day had to be the acquisition of Roman Turek. Described as a "klutz" in a goodbye column by one St. Louis columnist, Turek has his fans and his detractors, posting generally excellent regular season numbers but showing himself less than a money goalie in the playoffs.

The Flames would really like only one thing from Turek - the game to game consistency that Fred Brathwaite couldn't give them.

The loss of Brathwaite will be particularly challenging for Flames fans. One of the three nicest individuals to ever grace a Flames uniform, Brathwaite also had some impressive stretches through the last few years where he practically carried the team on his back.

With Calgary so far out of contention by Christmas last year that only a miracle of mathematics could have saved their season, Brathwaite did his best. But inevitably, the fact he is not Dominik Hasek became readily evident. With a team that needed to win every game, any Brathwaite mistake was magnified and he was very ordinary down the stretch along with the rest of his teammates.

And very bad to start the season.

Turek is here as a solution to the consistency problem.

To give up Daniel Tkazcuk though may turn out to be a crime. Button has a point in saying Tkaczuk would not be playing in Calgary with Savard, Niedermayer, Conroy and Wilm down the middle. At issue, however, is whether or not Tkaczuk should already be considered a washout or a legitimate second line prospect. This is one aspect of the Turek trade that may come back to bite Button in the butt. I didn't like it one bit.

Then again, look who Button kept. Rico Fata. Speed, speed, speed. Some skill. Aggressive. But can he play within a system?

How do I put this - I like replacing Brathwaite with Turek but at what cost? And can the Flames convince Turek to sign beyond this season? If not, this was an expensive one-year pickup.

Andrei Taratukhin, 6", 198 lbs and taken in the second round of the draft as part of the Phoenix deal, replaces Tkazcuk as an interesting prospect for a future role as a second line centre. Again, a very good skater, a two-way player who understands the game well, with good skills. He essentially comes to the Flames for free just as, suspiciously, Calgary seems to have given Tkaczuk to the Blues for the same price.

Probably the most interesting thing about this draft for Button is the acquisition that didn't happen. Button went into the action yesterday having said he wanted to improve his goaltending and also acquire a player who would serve as a focal point, a leader for the entire dressing room.

Is that Rob Niedermayer or Roman Turek?

Not likely.

Which leads us into all the things that never happened on Day One of this draft.

Mike Peca is still a Buffalo Sabre. And getting unhappier by the moment with his mouthpiece, Don Meehan, saying the Sabres continue to punish Peca for unspecified sins. No argument here. Then again, Peca could have played last year in Buffalo for $2.8 million. His choice.

Eric Lindros, as of this hour, is still a Philadelphia Flyer, although rumoured to be only moments away from being a Detroit Red Wing.

Jaromir Jagr is still a Pittsburgh Penguin.

No one is even talking about trading Theo Fleury, he of a recent season ending rehab stay. We assumed he was washed up as a Ranger but there he remains.

And what of the final rounds of the draft today - a fine place for everyone to shuffle salary off on other teams in exchange for obscure late round picks. Is this the last day for Phil Housley as a Flame? Or Adam Graves as a Ranger?

Looking ahead, we still have July 1 to cross, the date when the greatest load of unrestricted free agents in history gets let out of school.

For not only Button, but the rest of his NHL GM brethren as well, training camps are still nine weeks away.

More can happen. This weekend is not necessarily the shaping of the final lineup for October.

Button has those remaining weeks to consider the other remaining questions of the day. Has he given up too much scoring without enough coming back? Does he need to look for a UFA second-line player or is he really going to rely on the unproven Jukka Hentunen? Is Turek really an improvement over Brathwaite? Can Niedermayer pick up the 20 goals he needs to make this trade tilt towards a saw-off? Will coach Greg Gilbert really be able to follow through on his vow to make the Flames one of the NHL's best defensive teams in only one season, the only way the local boys can offset their noticeable lack of scoring power? In fact, are the young defencemen spearheading the charge up to the task? Are the Flames tough enough without Weimer?

And the biggest riddle of them all - can a chubby kid (Andrei Medvedev) really play goal?

Stay tuned.

Flames fans had demanded change. They got what they wished for. And it's not over yet.

"I DON'T WANT TO GET INTO THE ECONOMICS of the league but I think teams are looking at how much money they want to spend and how best to spend it, as opposed to just spending it and spending it. There are so many free agents, restricted and unrestricted, that teams are looking at how to best spend their money. With arbitration now, you're looking at 20-goal scorers making $2 million. You can't do anything to stop it except lose the player. So you have to find ways to save and spend wisely.'' Boston GM Mike O'Connell pondering the future of star centre Jason Allison, probable recipient of a $7 million top-up this summer.

"UNTIL LINDROS, JAGR OR YASHIN ARE TRADED, it's hard for clubs to see where a player such as a Valeri Bure fits in to the equation. It may have to wait until the very last moment - if at all." - Toronto President Ken Dryden, for some reason talking to the Herald's Bruce Dowbiggin about a player on the roster of another team.

''I’M VERY COMFORTABLE VALERI WILL BUY INTO what we're doing here,'' Panthers general manager Bill Torrey.

''ROB IS A GOOD-SIZED PLAYER that skates well, and for whatever reason, we didn't think that he was performing up to his level of play. 'We feel that he can get back to the level of a 50- to 60-point player that's a real good two-way player for our team.''

''WE THINK BRATHWAITE CAN COME IN and play alongside Brent (Johnson). We believe Johnny has a chance to be a No. 1 goalie in the future, but that has yet to be proven.'' - Blues GM Larry Pleau.

"IT’S A NEW TEAM, A NEW CITY. I've talked it over with my family (wife Helena and his nine-year-old son named, naturally, Eddie) and we're ready to go." – Roman Turek talking about coming to Calgary.